Georgian forces and separatists in South Ossetia agree to observe a ceasefire and hold Russian-mediated talks to end their long-simmering conflict.
Hours later, Georgian forces launch a surprise attack, sending a large force against the breakaway province and reaching the capital Tskhinvali.
South Ossetian rebel leader Eduard Kokoity accuses Georgia of a "perfidious and base step".
The head of Georgian forces in South Ossetia says the operation is intended to "restore constitutional order" to the region, while the government says the troops are "neutralising separatist fighters attacking civilians".
Russia's special envoy in South Ossetia, Yury Popov, says Georgia's military operation shows that it cannot be trusted and he calls on Nato to reconsider plans to offer it membership.
Story from BBC NEWS:
But Russia says clashes are continuing, and it launches fresh bombing raids near the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
The targets appear to be a military airfield that had already been hit on Sunday morning - although reports say the international airport was also hit.
Russian warships are deployed near ports along the Georgian Black Sea coast, including Poti, where Georgian officials say wheat and fuel shipments are being blocked. Russia insists there are no plans to stop oil exports, but says it reserves the right to search any ships. Later reports say the warships have been withdrawn.
Meanwhile, the separatist authorities in Georgia's other breakaway region of Abkhazia announce a full military mobilisation, saying they have sent 1,000 troops to drive Georgian forces from their only remaining stronghold in the Kodori Gorge.
The US government deplores the "disproportionate and dangerous escalation" by Russia in the conflict and warns it could have a "significant" long-term impact on US-Russian relations.What an utter pig's ear.
By MISHA DZHINDZHIKHASHVILI, Associated Press Writer
Swarms of Russian jets launched new raids on Georgian territory Monday and Georgia faced the threat of a second front of fighting as Russia demanded that Georgia disarm troops near the breakaway province of Abkhazia.
While a senior Russian general insisted that Russia has no plans to press further into Georgian territory — its troops are now in two breakaway provinces — the order to disarm carried the threat that Russian-sponsored fighting would spread.
The new air forays into Georgia — even as Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on signed a cease-fire pledge — appeared to show Russian determination to subdue the small, U.S.-backed country, which has been pressing for NATO membership. Russia fended off a wave of international calls to observe Georgia's pleas for a truce, saying it must first be assured of Georgia's retreat from South Ossetia.
The United States is campaigning to get Russia to halt its retaliation and American officials have accused Russia of using the fighting to try to overthrow the Georgian government. President Bush, who has encouraged Georgia's efforts to join NATO, said he spoke with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the Russian president.
"I've expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia and that we strongly condemn the bombing outside of South Ossetia," Bush said in an interview with NBC Sports.
In turn, Putin criticized the United States for airlifting Georgian troops back home from Iraq on Sunday at Georgia's request.
"It's a pity that some of our partners instead of helping are in fact trying to get in the way," Putin said at a Cabinet meeting. "I mean among other things the United States airlifting Georgia's military contingent from Iraq effectively into the conflict zone."
A two-front battlefield would be a major escalation in the conflict, which blew up Friday after a Georgian offensive to regain control of separatist South Ossetia.
Most Georgian troops are near South Ossetia, in the center of the country along its northern border with Russia, which would make it difficult for Georgia to repel an offensive from Abkhazia, in the west along the Black Sea.
International envoys flew into the region late Sunday and the U.N. Security Council met for the fourth time in as many days to try to end the conflict before it spreads throughout the volatile Caucasus.
In Tbilisi, Saakashvili signed a cease-fire pledge Monday proposed by the French and Finnish foreign ministers. The EU envoys plan to travel from Tbilisi to Moscow later Monday to try to persuade Russia to accept it.
Saakashvili had ordered the halt Sunday after overwhelming Russian firepower blasted his troops out of the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, but Russian officials said they saw no cease-fire on the ground.
In Moscow, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia has completed "a large part of efforts to force Georgian authorities to peace in South Ossetia," a statement that suggests Moscow could accept the proposed cease-fire.
Saakashvili, however, voiced concern that Russia's true goal was to undermine his pro-Western government. "It's all about the independence and democracy of Georgia," he said during a conference call.
At a U.N. Security Council meeting on Sunday, Russia's ambassador to the United Nationa, Vitaly Churkin, acknowledged there were occasions when elected leaders "become an obstacle."
Saakashvili said Russia has sent 20,000 troops and 500 tanks into Georgia — with some troops getting within three miles of Gori, located just outside South Ossetia, before being repulsed Sunday.
Georgia borders the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia and was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia have run their own affairs without international recognition since fighting to split from Georgia in the early 1990s.
Both separatist provinces have close ties with Moscow, while Georgia has deeply angered Russia by wanting to join NATO.
Georgia began an offensive to regain control over South Ossetia overnight Friday with heavy shelling and air strikes that ravaged the city of Tskhinvali. The Russia response was swift and overpowering — thousands of troops that shelled the Georgians until they fled Tskhinvali on Sunday, and air attacks across Georgia, some on facilities far from the site of the fighting.
The Georgian president said Russian warplanes were bombing roads and bridges, destroying radar systems Monday and targeting Tbilisi's civilian airport Sunday night. One Russian bombing raid struck the Tbilisi airport area just a half-hour before the EU envoys arrived, he said.
Georgia said another hit Friday near the key Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which carries Caspian crude to the West. No supply interruptions have been reported and Russia denies targeting the pipeline.
While not addressing reports of the incursion near Gori, Nogovitsyn, the Russian general, said Russia had no intention to move deeper into Georgia. "We aren't planning any offensive," he said.
Saakashvili later drove to the outskirts of Gori, a town where scores of people were killed in an Russian attack Saturday. He was joining French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who had just completed a tour of the destroyed buildings.
As the Georgian president spoke to reporters next to his SUV, a member of his security team shouted "cover him!" Saakashvili was torn away by bodyguards and pushed to the ground. They piled extra flak jackets on top of him.
Fearing an air raid, onlookers fled, looking skyward and screaming. No jets were seen or heard.
Kouchner had left seconds before the panic.
"This a misfortune, this is impossible to support," Kouchner said after touring Gori. "That's why we not only have to denounce this, but we have to work to stop the fight."
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said more than 2,000 people had been killed in South Ossetia since Friday, most of them Ossetians with Russian passports. The figures could not be independently confirmed, but refugees who fled the city said hundreds were killed.
Thousands of civilians have fled South Ossetia — many seeking shelter in the neighboring Russian province of North Ossetia.
"The Georgians burned all of our homes," said one elderly woman, as she sat on a bench under a tree with three other white-haired survivors of the fighting. "The Georgians say it is their land. Where is our land, then?"
Nogovitsyn said on Russian television Monday that Russia demanded Georgia disarm police in Zugdidi, a town just outside Abkhazia, but did not say what would happen if they do not.
Abkhazia's Russian-supported separatist government called out the army and reservists on Sunday and declared it would push Georgian forces out of the northern part of the Kodori Gorge, the only area of Abkhazia still under Georgian control.
A Russian commander said 9,000 additional Russian troops and 350 armored vehicles had arrived in Abkhazia.
Nogovitsyn also said Russian ships deployed to Georgia's Black Sea coast sank one of four Georgian patrol boats that came close Sunday — a report rejected by Georgian Coast Guard chief David Golua.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council met for the fourth time Sunday in four days to discuss the crisis. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad accused Moscow of seeking "regime change" in Georgia and resisting attempts to make peace.
Associated Press writers David Nowak in Gori, Georgia; Douglas Birch in Vladikavkaz, Russia; Jim Heintz, Vladimir Isachenkov and Lynn Berry in Moscow; John Heilprin at the United Nations contributed to this report.
It is beyond
argument that moving steadily towards missile defense against certain
risks, with the aim of having something in place in 10 years time, is
good planning. What Russia objects to is the incessant march of
American, not just NATO, military personnel and arms, to the very
borders of Russia. They see this as economically and socially
destabilising, particularly when the US is run by people such as Bush
and his team who have little idea of the realities of politics outside
the US and, as is becoming more and more obvious, little idea of
their own country. Polish
security is best secured with the help of Russia, not by a relationship
that is based on disregard or enmity. Stability in the region should be
based on Russian and US support, not one playing games against the
The only way to
classify the current US administration, a
spokesman for which has just made a fool of himself on BBC 2 Newsnight,
is juvenile and senile at the same time, lacking only maturity. "America is the first country to have gone from barbarism
to decadence without the usual intervening period of civilization" said
Oscar Wilde. To add "From juvenility to senility without a period of
maturity" would be a little unfair given the amazing performance and
sacrifice in WW II [once we had
tricked them into action by giving the Pearl Harbour advance
intelligence to Hoover instead of US Naval Intelligence], though
the sacrifice was not made by their politicians but by the men and
women they sent to do the job.
DENVER: In retrospect the NATO summit declaration of April 3 about Georgia and Ukraine seems almost criminal in its irresponsibility: "We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO."
That lofty commitment emerged from a Bucharest meeting so split over the two countries' aspirations to enter the Atlantic alliance that it could not even agree to offer the first step toward joining, the Membership Action Plan that prepares nations for NATO.
It is unconscionable to declare objectives for which the means do not exist, or paper over European-American division through statements of ringing but empty principle. The history of the so-called "safe areas" in Bosnia, Srebrenica among them, is sufficient testimony to the bloodshed lurking in loose commitments.
The great Bucharest fudge succeeded only in infuriating the Russians without providing the deterrence value of concrete steps for Georgia and Ukraine. Vladimir Putin, then Russia's president and now its prime minister, made Moscow's fury plain to President George W. Bush the next day in Sochi, but Bush, no surprise, was asleep at the wheel.
Blood has since been shed, Georgia's borders trampled, and its breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia recognized by Russia resurgent.
That's a cautionary tale for Monday's European Union summit on the Georgian crisis: no empty commitments, please, and no feel-good doling-out of threats or sanctions against Russia for which the means are lacking. Grandstanding has had its day.
I'm appalled by what Russia has wrought in Georgia. The gulag and the enslavement of wide swathes of Europe by the Soviet empire burden Moscow with a historical responsibility for the freedom of its neighbors. Viktor Yushchenko, the Ukrainian president, put these neighbors' fear most bluntly: "What has happened is a threat to everyone."
It is, but Putin, or at least Putin II, the angry man of the second half of his rule, thinks all that's bunk.
In 2005, the ex-KGB man, his veneer of St. Petersburg liberalism already buried, called the demise of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century. So perhaps we should not be surprised by the Georgian grab. Yet shock is palpable in Europe and the United States.
At the Democratic national convention here, a Georgian delegation wandered around garnering sympathy. Public relations are a weak state's best 21st century weapon.
David Bakradze, the chairman of the Georgian Parliament, told me: "Russia's aim is to weaken Georgia to the point that NATO allies are scared, instability brings regime change, and the map of Europe is changed by military force."
I can't argue with that. I don't like it any more than Bakradze. But before we get to what to do about it, a few points of history bear examination.
No, the West was not wrong to extend NATO to the former vassal states of the Soviet empire in central Europe and the Baltic. The historical debt of Yalta and the indivisibility of a free Europe demanded no less.
Could more have been done to bring Russia into this new European "architecture?" I think not. Ron Asmus, who dealt with these questions as a senior Clinton administration State Department official, told me "It's become a Weimar-like legend that we humiliated them."
On the contrary, hundreds of man-hours went into nudging the Russians westward. The NATO-Russia Council was set up; cooperation on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation was put in place. Boris Yeltsin was determined to break Russia's imperial tradition; Putin did not immediately reverse the trend.
What turned Putin cannot yet be written. Georgia's "Rose Revolution" of 2003 and Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" of 2004 were critical. Iraq played a part. I'm sure the huge amounts of money accruing to the managers, he chief among them, of a controlled one-pipeline Russian state did, too. And here we are.
Russia will pay a price for what it's done. It's angered China, opened a Pandora's box for a state with its own breakaway candidates, and lost its international law card. Rather than a new Cold War, we're in a new broad war with several players, China chief among them, and Putin's Russia has placed short-term gain before long-term interests.
So the West should not overplay its hand. Breaking off arms reduction and missile defense talks with Russia is in nobody's interest. Nor are cheap shots like throwing Russia out of an (ever less relevant) G-8.
But nor can the West be cowed. It must shore up the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, with financial and other support. It must keep the trans-Caspian, Russia-circumventing energy corridor open. It must bolster Ukraine's independence. And, at the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in December, it should replace Bucharest blather with basics: a Membership Action Plan for Georgia and Ukraine.
Resolve tempered by engagement won the Cold War. It can help in the broad war.